Oprah’s Latest Book Club Pick: Finding Me by Viola Davis

Join our Best Sellers Club to have certain celebrity book club picks automatically put on hold for you: Reese Witherspoon, Jenna Bush Hager, and Oprah Winfrey. While Reese and Jenna generally announce a new title each month, Oprah’s selections are more sporadic. She has just announced hew newest selection! Reminder that if you join our Best Sellers Club, you can choose to have these titles automatically put on hold for you.

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Oprah Winfrey has selected Finding Me by Viola Davis as her latest pick.

Curious what Finding Me is about? Check out the following description provided by the author.

In my book, you will meet a little girl named Viola who ran from her past until she made a life-changing decision to stop running forever.

This is my story, from a crumbling apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to the stage in New York City, and beyond. This is the path I took to finding my purpose but also my voice in a world that didn’t always see me.

As I wrote Finding Me, my eyes were open to the truth of how our stories are often not given close examination. We are forced to reinvent them to fit into a crazy, competitive, judgmental world. So I wrote this for anyone running through life untethered, desperate and clawing their way through murky memories, trying to get to some form of self-love. For anyone who needs reminding that a life worth living can only be born from radical honesty and the courage to shed facades and be . . . you.

Finding Me is a deep reflection, a promise, and a love letter of sorts to self. My hope is that my story will inspire you to light up your own life with creative expression and rediscover who you were before the world put a label on you.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Join our Best Sellers Club to have Oprah’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!

September’s Celebrity Book Club Picks

It’s the beginning of the month which means that Oprah Winfrey, Jenna Bush Hager, and Reese Witherspoon have picked new books for their book clubs! Reminder that if you join our Best Sellers Club, these titles will automatically be put on hold for you.

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Oprah Winfrey has selected The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

Curious what The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

The 2020 National Book Award–nominated poet makes her fiction debut with this magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of Homegoing; Sing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer—that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era.

The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.

Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead.

To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself.

This book is also available in the following formats:

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Jenna Bush Hager has selected Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang.

Curious what is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

An incandescent memoir from an astonishing new talent, Beautiful Country puts readers in the shoes of an undocumented child living in poverty in the richest country in the world.

In Chinese, the word for America, Mei Guo, translates directly to “beautiful country.” Yet when seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 full of curiosity, she is overwhelmed by crushing fear and scarcity. In China, Qian’s parents were professors; in America, her family is “illegal” and it will require all the determination and small joys they can muster to survive.

In Chinatown, Qian’s parents labor in sweatshops. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly, taking out the stress of their new life on one another. Shunned by her classmates and teachers for her limited English, Qian takes refuge in the library and masters the language through books, coming to think of The Berenstain Bears as her first American friends. And where there is delight to be found, Qian relishes it: her first bite of gloriously greasy pizza, weekly “shopping days,” when Qian finds small treasures in the trash lining Brooklyn’s streets, and a magical Christmas visit to Rockefeller Center—confirmation that the New York City she saw in movies does exist after all.

But then Qian’s headstrong Ma Ma collapses, revealing an illness that she has kept secret for months for fear of the cost and scrutiny of a doctor’s visit. As Ba Ba retreats further inward, Qian has little to hold onto beyond his constant refrain: Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here.

Inhabiting her childhood perspective with exquisite lyric clarity and unforgettable charm and strength, Qian Julie Wang has penned an essential American story about a family fracturing under the weight of invisibility, and a girl coming of age in the shadows, who never stops seeking the light.

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Reese Witherspoon has selected L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón.

Curious what is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

FORECAST: Storm clouds are on the horizon in this fun, fast-paced novel of an affluent Mexican-American family from the author of the #1 Los Angeles Times bestseller Esperanza’s Box of Saints.

L.A. is parched, dry as a bone, and all Oscar, the weather-obsessed patriarch of the Alvarado family, desperately wants is a little rain. He’s harboring a costly secret that distracts him from everything else. His wife, Keila, desperate for a life with a little more intimacy and a little less Weather Channel, feels she has no choice but to end their marriage. Their three daughters—Claudia, a television chef with a hard-hearted attitude; Olivia, a successful architect who suffers from gentrification guilt; and Patricia, a social media wizard who has an uncanny knack for connecting with audiences but not with her lovers—are blindsided and left questioning everything they know. Each will have to take a critical look at her own relationships and make some tough decisions along the way.

With quick wit and humor, Maria Amparo Escandón follows the Alvarado family as they wrestle with impending evacuations, secrets, deception, and betrayal, and their toughest decision yet: whether to stick together or burn it all down.

This book is also available in the following format:

Join our Best Sellers Club to have Oprah, Jenna, and Reese’s adult selections automatically put on hold for you!

World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

If you love natural history, biology, poetry, or lyrical memoir, you’ll probably love World of Wonders. Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Nakamura have created an enrapturing book-cum-artwork which shows the breathtaking biodiversity of our world alongside the mosaic of memories that makes a human life remarkable.

Nezhukumatathil (nuh ZOO KOO mah tah till) skillfully interweaves her own story of growing up and living in many different places (Kansas, Arizona, and Ohio to name a few, not to mention visits to family in Kerala, India) with profiles of vital plants and wildlife which feature in that locale and her memories of it. One of my favorite examples is the chapter in which she describes the corpse flower, an enormous plant which blooms into a foul odor only once every few years. Not only does she describe the plant’s origins and lifecycles, but she also tells the reader how she used to use this flower as a story to test potential dates: her date’s reaction to hearing her enthusiasm for the corpse flower told her whether or not they should get a second date. Only one reacted with interest and curiosity and without judgement, and she married him. It makes for a fascinating, funny, and ultimately heartwarming chapter.

Other entries take the reader to more serious places: the enigmatic smile of the endangered axolotl is woven into Nezhukumatathil’s memories of the casually racist comments she endured growing up and well into adulthood. The fabulous flair of the peacock is part of a painful memory of a prejudiced teacher who assigned the class to draw their favorite animal — so long as it was an “American” animal. Even the first chapter about the catalpa tree is a bittersweet memory of going with her sister after school to meet their mother at her workplace – a Kansas mental institution – and facing the ridicule of classmates. In any circumstance, Nezhukumatathil found comfort and advice in the myriad strategies and adaptations of nature.

A book full of wonder, hope, gratitude, and ecological appreciation, peppered with lovely sketch-like illustrations, World of Wonders is not something you’ll want to miss.

The Queer Bible edited by Jack Guinness

A beautiful, heartfelt book about inspiration, creation, fame, and feeling less alone, The Queer Bible is a love letter to the celebrities who have given hope to generations of confused kids, scared teens, and lonely adults. Divided roughly into sections, it’s a book of essays, each written by a current LGBTQ public figure about their respective LGBTQ celebrity hero and what the celebrity’s work meant to them. It began as a lovely website, QueerBible.com (which is still going strong, so if you like this book make sure to check it out) but has been well-translated into an illustrated print form.

I learned so much reading this book! There was a ton of history and cult classic media that I never knew about, or didn’t understand in its full context. The essayists in this book did a fantastic job of not only explaining a lot of that history, but also examining why it mattered to them and matters now. More than that, I loved the tone of this book; none of the writers shied away from talking about how hard their experiences were, and how difficult others had it, but at the same time they all circled back to a place of defiant hope in the face of adversity. The grief and horror of the AIDS epidemic figures largely throughout the book, but it doesn’t diminish the joy of community and self-expression that is the other major theme.

The other fantastic aspect of the book as a whole was the introduction of LGBTQ figures, past and present. I knew some of the famous faces that wrote or were written about, but others were completely new to me – making my reading experience a fascinating journey of discovery. Helpfully, every essay ends with a profile of its author, so you not only hear their voice describing their hero, but you also understand who they are and what they’ve done as an LGBTQ icon themselves.

All in all, this is a vital LGBTQ text, and a great read if you’re looking for a memoir omnibus, a cultural history, and/or a meditation on why media and representation matters.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

You’ve probably seen a book like this before – promising to tell you the secret to escaping the cage of your material goods, into a brighter and more fulfilling life. How-to manuals on this subject are everywhere, but that’s not quite what’s happening in The Year of Less by Cait Flanders.

More than anything, The Year of Less is a really good story. Cait Flanders tells her own tale of how she navigated her way out of various addictions, including buying things to try and make herself feel better. Her journey began when she decided to undertake a shopping ban for one whole year: for 12 months she would only be allowed to buy consumables like groceries and toiletries and other essentials. Buying new clothes, housewares, books, etc. was all off the table. Each chapter focuses on a month, in which she tells the story of her most significant epiphany from that month, and how her journey was affected by that month’s circumstances. Any advice or “how-to” feel seems to happen by accident as the reader is drawn along, fascinated by Flanders’ story.

As a blogger, Flanders knows how to structure each short chapter and keep the reader’s attention with bite-size anecdotes that all build into a larger, more profound narrative. Bits of wisdom and insight are scattered throughout, and it was these that gave me a sense of wonder and clarity. Flanders knows, as she writes, that the specific advice of what to get rid of and how are less important than uncovering the emotions and habits that caused the clutter to build up in the first place. Good tidbits include: sometimes we buy things for the ideal person we’d like to be instead of the person we actually are; buying things is a way of insulating against pain, so instead we need to learn to feel things and keep on living; a shopping ban is a countercultural lifestyle and as such will face digs and doubt and peer pressure from those around you.

If you’re interested in memoirs, minimalism, mindfulness, organization, or things like intentional consumerism and the zero waste movement, this may be the book for you.

Invisible In-betweens: Gender Identity 201

Gender identity is a hot topic in politics and culture lately, and for good reason. More people than ever before are feeling comfortable expressing the true range of their gender identity, but that means a lot of new and unfamiliar concepts are coming into the mainstream. If you’re overwhelmed, worried, or confused about what it all means, that’s okay – we can help with that! Research has shown that reading books, especially fiction, about people different from you can help build your empathy and understanding for them. I’m a firm believer that if we could only understand each other better and have compassion for each other, the world would be a kinder place – so if you liked my previous recommendations (or if you missed them entirely) try one of these titles to build a better understanding of a complicated issue. My focus this time around is on the muddled, fluid, unclear in-between places where gender isn’t clear-cut.

  

For a comprehensive look at gender diversity, try They/Them/Their by Eris Young – available through interlibrary loan, it focuses mostly on gender diversity in the United Kingdom, but with applicable concepts for US audiences. What I especially like about this book is its careful discussion of various terms and their meanings, and its heavy use of first-person accounts describing real-life experiences. If you’re completely new to the world of gender diversity, this is a great place to start.

        

If you’d like a book that helps you get used to hearing gender-neutral pronouns, and focuses on adventures and everyday activities of gender-diverse people, try one of these great titles. The Love Study is a light-hearted romance between a man with a fear of commitment and a genderqueer YouTuber. Finna by Nino Cipri is a funny sci-fi take on working retail, featuring Ava, an anxious girl, and her recent ex, genderqueer Jules. Mask of Shadows is the dark and exciting fantasy adventure of Sal, a genderfluid thief who takes the opportunity to audition to be an assassin for the queen, only to find themself falling in love with scribe Elise. Spin With Me is a sweet story of the mutual crush that blossoms between Essie, the reluctant new girl in town, and Ollie, a non-binary classmate passionate about LGBTQ advocacy.

 

For a meaningful memoir, try Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and Identity by Corey Maison. I especially recommend Gender Queer if you’re not familiar with alternative pronouns: the author uses e/em/eir instead of he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs. These books are especially good for seeing life from a gender-diverse person’s perspective, because they detail the processes and emotions surrounding the authors’ quests to live authentically as themselves.

For a comics treatment, try Be Gay, Do Comics, edited by Matt Bors, and A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson. Be Gay, Do Comics is a massive anthology of comics describing the wide world of LGBTQ+ experience, including the spectrum of gender diversity and the struggle of pronouns. A Quick and Easy Guide is, well, exactly what it sounds like. If you’re confused by the singular they/them pronouns or aren’t really familiar with how it works, this is a good book to start with, not least because it includes perspectives from both inside and outside the non-binary gender experience. See also A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J.R. Zuckerberg.

 

Finally, make it manga (Japanese graphic novels) with My Androgynous Boyfriend by Tamekou, The Bride Was A Boy by Chii, and Love Me for What I Am by Kata Konayama. These beautifully and/or adorably illustrated graphic novels tell the story of gender-diverse people as they fit into (or stand out of) everyday society. In My Androgynous Boyfriend, an average girl dates a boy skilled in the arts of makeup, nails, hair, and fashion – and they navigate the response of society to his unconventional self-expression. In The Bride Was A Boy, a transgender bride shares her journey through transition into love and matrimony, with cute humor along the way. Finally, Love Me for What I Am focuses on a non-binary teen finding community and acceptance working at an unusual café.

On Writing by Stephen King

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” 

While I have always been a fan of Stephen King, I had no idea he had written a memoir about the craft of writing itself until very recently. Published in 2000, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft delves into King’s thoughts and philosophies on writing and how his life experiences have contributed to his own craft.

King aptly titles the first half of this memoir “CV,” which details significant moments and experiences in his life that have shaped him into the writer he is today. While I was surprised at some of the traumatic experiences he recounted as both a child and young man, I was admittedly more surprised to read about how many rejection letters King received when he first started writing science fiction stories. It is mind-boggling to think that Stephen King, a staple name in the horror genre, experienced so much rejection when he first started out. Consequently, I was extremely inspired by his perseverance to continue writing, despite countless setbacks. For him, writing wasn’t (and isn’t) a job – he is truly passionate about the craft and it is a part of who he is.

In the second half of the memoir, titled “On Writing,” King reflects upon the craft of writing itself. He definitely isn’t afraid to say what he thinks (NOT a fan of adverbs or passive voice!), but gives much encouragement to the aspiring writers who read this book. I found it absolutely fascinating to see inside the mind of one of the most brilliant and prolific authors of our time – not only through the lens of an autobiography, but also through the lens of how and why he writes the way he does. One of the most engrossing sections of this book for me was when he described how he plans and details his plots… he doesn’t! He describes his process as starting with a “what if” question and, if the situation arising from that question is strong enough, he lets his characters lead him through the actual writing of the story. How amazing is that? Some examples he gives in the text include the following:

  • What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salem’s Lot)
  • What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
  • What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

Overall, I found this memoir to be a captivating read and would highly recommend it for both aspiring writers and fans of King alike!

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

“Conditional citizens are people who know what it is like for a country to embrace you with one arm, and push you away with the other.” 

In the recently published title Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, Laila Lalami reflects upon what it means to be an American citizen as an Arab, Muslim woman who immigrated from Morocco after studying abroad in the United States. In this book, she designates individuals such as herself as “conditional citizens,” or those who are unable to participate and share in the traditional liberties and equalities promised upon becoming a citizen due to their race, nationality, religion, or gender.

In this collection of essays, Lalami explores her place in America by focusing on different spaces in which she experiences conditional citizenship, spanning from allegiance and faith to caste, inheritance, and assimilation. She considers how conditional citizens are all too often attributed a collective narrative based on race, gender, nationality, and religion, which can lead to demeaning stereotypes, dehumanizing rhetoric, and destructive notions of “the Other.” Lalami also elaborates upon how the very foundations of the United States are upheld by a caste system supporting white supremacy, in which white males are upheld at the top of the social order. All in all, this account asks the monumental questions of what it means to be an American and what it means to truly belong in the United States of America.

Overall, this deeply personal and moving narrative provides a vital perspective and addresses a variety of undeniably important topics in short, insightful essays. For me, this was not only an extremely enlightening read, but also a disheartening one as Lalami illuminates the hardships many people experience in the United States each and every day, despite being citizens. One of the most poignant experiences Lalami recounts is when a white woman asked her about the formation of ISIS at a book talk for her novel The Moor’s Account, which is a fictionalized memoir of the first black explorer in the United States. In other words, a work that has absolutely nothing to do with ISIS, but asked based on an ignorant, collective narrative drawn solely from her nationality and appearance. Unfortunately, these generalizations are by no means uncommon and can be extremely dangerous for so many people, which is why I especially recommend this title to everyone.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eBook

Jenna Bush Hager August Book Picks

Jenna Bush Hager has selected TWO books for the August #ReadWithJenna book club. She has chosen Here For It by R. Eric Thomas and The Comeback by Ella Berman.

Here for it: or, how to save your soul in America by R. Eric Thomas is her nonfiction selection. This memoir is presented through a series of essays. Check out the following description provided by the publisher:

R. Eric Thomas didn’t know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went–whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city–he found himself on the outside looking in. In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Eric redefines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience. He explores the two worlds of his childhood: the barren urban landscape where his parents’ house was an anomalous bright spot, and the verdant school they sent him to in white suburbia. He writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, about the exhaustion of code-switching in college, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason), and the surreal experience of covering the 2016 election as well as the seismic change that came thereafter. Ultimately, Eric seeks the answer to the ever more relevant question: Is the future worth it? Why do we bother when everything seems to be getting worse? As the world continues to shift in unpredictable ways, Eric finds the answers to these questions by re-envisioning what “normal” means, and in the powerful alchemy that occurs when you at last place yourself at the center of your own story.

The Comeback is her fiction selection. The following description, provided by the publisher, will give you an idea what the book is about.

A deep dive into the psyche of a young actress raised in the spotlight under the influence of a charming, manipulative film director and the moment when she decides his time for winning is over. At the height of her career and on the eve of her first Golden Globe nomination, teen star Grace Turner disappeared. Now, tentatively sober and surprisingly numb, Grace is back in Los Angeles after her year of self-imposed exile. She knows the new private life she wants isn’t going to be easy as she tries to be a better person and reconnect with the people she left behind. But when Grace is asked to present a lifetime achievement award to director Able Yorke–the man who controlled her every move for eight years–she realizes that she can’t run from the secret behind her spectacular crash and burn for much longer. And she’s the only one with nothing left to lose. Alternating between past and present, The Comeback tackles power dynamics and the uncertainty of young adulthood, the types of secrets that become part of our sense of self, and the moments when we learn that though there are many ways to get hurt, we can still choose to fight back.

Want to make sure that Jenna’s picks are automatically put on hold for you? Be sure to join our Best Sellers Club.

Reese Witherspoon JUNE Celebrity Book Club Picks

Every month Reese Witherspoon releases a new pick for the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine book club. June is an exception! She has announced TWO books for June and we are so excited to tell you about them.

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any celebrity book club picks, join our Best Sellers Club and have those automatically put on hold for you.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is her fiction pick for the month. This book is available in the following formats: OverDrive eAudiobook and OverDrive eBook.

Below is a description of this book provided by the publisher:

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed. But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast. And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Reese Witherspoon’s second book club pick for June is I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This book is also available as an OverDrive eBook.

The following is a description provided by the publisher:

The author’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when her parents told her they named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. She grew up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, and has spent her life navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, a speaker, and an expert helping organizations practice genuine inclusion. While so many institutions claim to value diversity in their mission statements, many fall short of matching actions to words. Brown highlights how white middle-class evangelicalism has participated in the rise of racial hostility, and encourages the reader to confront apathy and recognize God’s ongoing work in the world.